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Center Stage - How Professional Staging Can Improve Your Listing, With Kelley Mehlmann

by Paul Dashevsky
September 30th 2022

Hosts Paul and Sara are joined by one of LA's amazing home stagers, Kelley Mehlman of K Grace Interiors, to discuss the art of staging and how it can benefit both realtors and homeowners. We'll lea... More

Welcome to the L. A. Realtor podcast. I'm paul with GreatBuildz and I'm Sarah with glen oaks escrow and we're getting to know the industry one conversation at a time. Hey everybody welcome to the L. A realtor podcast. We have a great guest today. She is one of LA's best stagers. I've used her many times. Welcome kelly Mehlmann from K Grace interiors. Hi paul. Hi Sarah. How are you? Hi, Thanks for coming on. Sure. No problem, kelly has staged quite a few of my homes and it makes a huge difference. I am a huge proponent of staging if you've ever walked into a vacant house or a grandma house versus you know what I mean? Because everyone's seen green shag carpet or versus a staged house that's professionally photographed. They're just not the same animal, right, kelly. 100%. I've been doing this probably for about nine years now and there's some houses I walk in and think, I don't know what we can do with this one.

It's it's not good. It's a grandma house and they don't want to do a lot. But somehow we walk out of and I always walk out and think I could live here. So if I do this every day and can see the difference, I think that it makes a difference whether your house is a flip and it's a nice new remodel or it's an older home where we're just trying to make it look pretty. Sometimes I call that low lipstick on a pig, but it helps. We've done houses with pink pepto bismol walls and made them look better and then we've done beautiful modern houses and I think no matter what we do the version of the stage, whether it's a vacant stage or we call a redesign where it has furniture in it already or somebody's living in it. We always seem to make it better and a little more neutral and definitely more sellable, which is obviously the ultimate goal. Do you feel like the majority of your business is vacant homes? Or is it kind of a combination of the types you mentioned? I would say up until Covid it was primarily vacant homes, that's what we prefer to do.

I will say I'm probably one of the few stagers in the valley. At least that will even do a occupied home. And the reason those are harder is one because people are living in it too. They want to use more of their things in it. So those are more where you go in and kind of edit and try to make the best of what's there and get them to neutralize it as much as possible so that somebody else can come in and begin to see themselves living in that space. People don't really understand that. And I think we all live in our home and we don't see what our home actually looks like until another pair of eyes comes in and sees it. And I like to say that I have x ray vision and I can see through all of their stuff and kind of see the potential in it. So it's what makes us good at what we do, It's one word clutter. 100 percent. Yeah. I mean that was that was my next question to whether it comes to like editing or just decluttering, where does that stuff go? Do you put it in storage pod or That's kind of one of the first questions I ask is do you have somewhere to put it? Okay, storage pods are good, garage space is even better because it's then you don't have a storage pod sitting in front and I even tell them like go through your cabinets, go through your closets like all of that when people open your cabinets, they don't want to see your stuff, they want to see room for their stuff.

So and I say if you're not taking it with you and you haven't used it since you moved into this house and it's in a box in the garage, get rid of it. But it's really hard for people to do. And I understand that we all like I look around my house and while this is what I do for a living in my house is pretty clean, I still would probably have somebody come in and have to look see the things that I don't see because I look past them. But let me ask you this because you have the design. I as soon as you walk into a house for an agent that gets a new listing and walks into that house, how do you recommend they would decide does this house need to be staged or de cluttered? Like what what's the decision matrix here? Agents, I think for agents in general we give a complimentary consultation, have us come out like, just have us come with you make us part of your team. And I feel like the agents that I work with that have done that have been more successful because then they don't have to be the bad guy. They, we get to say, hey, your house is too cluttered or too messy and they can still maintain that positive relationship with their client and I can kind of be the bad guy.

So, but I think they look at houses every day if they look at and think would they buy it or would they not buy it based on what they see. That's that's when they should call in a professional. I think a lot of agents are often afraid to say what they see because they don't want to hurt that relationship and so on my opinion and not just for the business. I say always call a stager and call somebody else in, have them come look and another thing I tell clients all the time is take a picture of each room in your house, go to bed, get up the next morning, look at that picture, would you buy that? You know? And chances are, the question is no, I mean, the answer is no, you would not. That's why they're moving out of that house. Well, but not even. Would you buy it from what functions? But would you buy it from a from a, like how does it look standpoint? Yeah, it really is true. It's like whether it's vacant or whether it's so cluttered, it's really hard for consumers to see past that and like imagine their stuff in that house when it's one of those to extreme 100%.

We want to add, I mean, staging houses like online dating in a way. People are people are swiping right and left if your photos from your home and they're going to take two seconds to make that decision if they're swiping right or left. So we used to compare it to having your car detailed. But I think online dating resonates better with people these days. So I'll say this every ultra high end listing. I've seen over like $5 million. Those fancy homes, that real estate yeah, whatever. They're all staged to the nines, right? They are staged. There's fancy cars in the garage. They are staged before, a reason, right? It's a lifestyle. You're showing a lifestyle in a price point. So you can build a beautiful, beautiful brand new house with all the highest and finishes. But if you don't show somebody the lifestyle they could live in that house, they don't, they're not as interested or every builder tracked. I've never walked into a model home in a builder track where the home is empty, they are staged and finished and they look like you can move in with your toothbrush because you want to believe you're going to live that lifestyle.

Like we put a chair or sitting there in every master bedroom. When was the last time you sat in your master bedroom in your chair? Never, you know, clothes on it. Everybody knows that there's a treadmill with stuff on it in the master bedroom. 100 percent. So I have a question, I've always wondered this, can you buy furniture that you see when it's like being used for staging? Yes, the answer is, yes, you can. Typically it is sold as is though. So I would say the furniture we used to stage a house and the furniture you want to live in are probably two different sets of furniture to be perfectly honest as we've grown our company. I think we've gone into some higher end furniture. So yes, now we have some couches that actually don't feel like cardboard when you sit on them. So yes, you can. But also, what I have found is that clients want to pay garage sale prices for that furniture. So it doesn't always make sense right now, every accent pillow and we could put probably 50 accent pillows in one house.

Every accent pillow you buy is I buy even at my price is $30. So, but somebody wants to buy it for five. So it doesn't always make sense. But yes, it is always available if someone wanted to buy it fully furnished with everything in it in place and we've had it happen a few times where it's actually worked out and they're willing to pay the price. Where do you keep all this stuff? Do you have it in a giant warehouse? Like how much square footage do you have to have to run a business? Like Well, funny story, I started in my house when I first started because I was buying as I went and then every job, every job is usually out for 60 ish days or at least it was before Covid, 60-64 days was the average time the house was out. So I didn't need a warehouse when I first started. But then I did go and look about a year and I was like, Okay, my downstairs was literally looked like a warehouse. My daughter would come home from school and go like, mom, what, you can't, you know, like we're done with this. So I got a warehouse in North Hollywood.

I currently have about 3500 square feet. It's not quite enough. It was before Covid when things were going a little slower. But because of Covid inventory was going in and out in 10 to 15 days. Like I would put it in the house and we'd pick it up a week and a half later because somebody was making an all cash offer, no contingencies, all of that good stuff. So I am currently looking for larger warehouse space. It is hard to find these days, but I have, I probably have, I don't know, 40 to 50 houses worth of furniture That can't fit into 3500 square feet. Can I'm sure some is out on projects as well. Right out projects. So when it all comes back around christmas time, it's, you can't really move and I think my cars get pulled out of my garage again and stuff goes in there. Do you have different deke or for the holidays? I don't tip holiday decor. We've toyed with the idea of doing it, but it's a lot work.

I mean you want to make staging look easy because we're typically in and out of the house in a couple hours. But it's like, it's five hours on the front and packing it and then comes back. It's another couple hours putting it away. If you hate moving. You don't want to be a stager because I feel like every time I saw you, it was with a moving truck. Always, always like that's a big part of your life. Right? Moving and packing is literally all I do if you hate to move. It is not fun. Yeah. Do you specifically look for lightweight furniture? Yes, 100%. Sometimes people ask for dressers and bedrooms and I was like one. Why do you need a dresser? You're not living there? And we really don't need drawers. So we typically will put a console table in its place because that sets the image of a dresser and shows that something that size would fit there. But we do not like to move heavy stuff. It's it's not fun in my next stage. Can I get armoire? You mind schlepping an armoire up? I'll bring you one from one of those little grandma houses.

It's on a 5th floor walk up. People say to me, oh well you guys can move this. It's really easy. Right? And I was like, I'd like a grand piano. Do you have a grand piano? There are stages. Who will do that for you? I am not one. Those are pull those in pool tables. I'm out. So do you have like a specific style that's just all yours or do you have to kind of have a collection of different styles to match with other people's partial staging and that type of a thing. Yeah. I think I would like to, I think that you can walk in the house. I've done and no, I did it. But not really. No, I did it. But yes, I try to stay very neutral in my basics like in my couches and things like that. They're going to be grays or beige. Is we have some stuff that I say everything I do really is not my particular style. And nor should it be because every house should have a mixture of styles in it so that everybody who walks into that house sees something they love. So maybe it's a mid century house and I will have a lot of mid century colors and fields in there.

But I also will put some modern or some more traditional in there. Just because I don't know if you're married there. But all you go house shopping and you know the wife wants one thing, the husband wants something else and you really have to put a mixture of all things in the house so that somebody everybody who walks into it find something they like about it. Yeah. That's a good point. I don't really think about that. Yeah. Let me ask about you because you started staging later in life. I did. Right. I mean how many years have you been doing this? You've had your own business for? How I've been doing it about 10 years now. I started at about 47. Okay. What? I did everything late in life. I think. What what the hell did you do before? You did this? Oh God. So many things where you just relax. I did not. I was a dental assistant. My 1st 10 years out of high school. I was a dental assistant and an orthodontic office. Were you were you were you gentle? I was a great dental assistant was amazing. And then I went to college and got my degree. So I graduated from college at 30 and then I went back into the orthodontic profession and was a consultant to show offices how to do to run their offices more efficiently.

So I traveled throughout the United States to dental offices and put on practice management consulting like seminars for them. And then had a baby. And I stayed home for a while and then I got, I went back into the dental profession and I was in sales, I sold appointment reminders. So like you know when you, when you make a dental appointment they text you. I did that. And and then I was traveling that my daughter was like, mom, you don't really like your job do you. And I was like, no, not really. And she was like you should do something you love. And I actually answered an ad on craigslist for a home staging company because somewhere in there I got a design degree, I forget exactly where that was. Somewhere in there. I did that and I actually thought this would be perfect for me because I don't, I like interior design. But staging and design are so different because staging is I get to decide and it's immediate and quick design can take forever.

People don't know what they want, they can show you a picture, You could give them that picture and they can say, I don't know, I don't think I like that and it's very frustrating. So I thought, well I've never done staging before, but let me give it a try and I did and I think I was pretty darn good at it. So I worked under another company for about four years and learned a lot, learned a lot what to do, learned a lot what not to do. And then I thought, well let's take a jump and I did and it's been working out, that's, that's great. How big is your service area? I will survive. I will go pretty pretty big. I will go almost anywhere. Like I will go santa Barbara, I'll go, we just did a job in La Hoya. I don't know that, I would do that again. It was maybe a little too far. I'd say Orange County might be my cut off. We don't need to visit. We visit the house twice, wants to see it and take pictures and video and then wants to stage it well three times and then wants to pick it up. So distance wise doesn't really matter to us so much really, it's what you need and can I get it there fast enough Oftentimes agents are homeowners will wait till the last minute to call us, which is not really great because we need about a week's notice or two weeks notice to get them on our schedule, how big is the crew that unloads and loads?

How many people does that take? We typically show up at every job with two movers and then either myself and my assistant caring or just myself or just Karen, So there's three of us, 3 to 4 of us max on a job. And while that seems like not a lot of people to move into a whole house, we can do it in about four hours, it's about an hour and a half for the main stuff and then I say an hour per bedroom because they have to put the beds together and things like that. So, but I like to work quick and get it done. So honestly, if it's a day and I'm working past three o'clock, I'm not very happy. Tell us about high maintenance clientele. You'll stage, because I know this happens or there correct me if I'm wrong, you'll stage a house and then will someone whether the owner or the agent call you and tell you you need more pictures on the walls, you need more pillows or I don't like this cat. Like, does that happen? Does it happen a lot to talk about that when I first started? It happened more so, but I will say at the company I was with before, I did learn nice ways to handle that.

And I actually have a nice big red clause in my contract printed and read that says, I get to decide and the reason I get to decide isn't really because I'm a control freak, which I might be a little bit of a control freak, but more so that like the agents price the house, they know how to price the house, I don't know how to price the house, they know how to negotiate, I don't know how to negotiate, I do know what I'm doing and I know what needs to be a the house and how it needs to be set up. And the reason I picked the color scheme for the house or the pillows for the house. So often times we will get a call like that or some agents like to be more involved in the stage than others. And I just gently remind them that, hey, this is what we do for a living. You call this for a reason. The reason we put the couch here is because you never want to walk into the back of the couch in the house because it cuts off a room and makes it feel smaller or the re we chose this color scheme is because of this. So it happens. But we try to nip it in the bud. Like if I go on a consultation and I find that they have a lot of opinions, we try to talk it out ahead of time so that we don't have any misunderstandings on the back end, but it does happen and everybody has an opinion.

So we listen. What's cool about kelly is I remember when we had some houses, like we had a house with like a turquoise door, she would stage the interior with like a turquoise accent. If we had a red front door, she would like, I was impressed. So anyways kudos to you. Um, can I ask you some practical questions like four agents or realtors who may have never used a stage or something like that? What is it cost a stage? I mean you talked a little bit about the length of a contract. What's the, what do they need to know if they've never used a stage or in terms of cost or how it works or how long who pays give. Okay, so as far as who pays, typically it is the homeowner who pays the staging cost and the staging cost is all paid up front in advance of the stage and the sale of the house. I do have several agents that I work with on a regular basis who will pay the staging cost upfront and collect it back out of escrow.

I always like to recommend maybe they, the agent pays half and the homeowner pays half that way. Both people have some skin in the game. I feel like that's always a fair way to do it. Oftentimes if the, I have found if the agent pays the full amount, sometimes the homeowner is less willing to do what they need to do to get the house prepared so that's sometimes not great. But as far as cost every house is different. I will say if they've never used the Stager before, everybody is always surprised by the cost of staging. They like to think that staging costs $2000 or 3000 because that's what they see on H. G. T. V. But typically I'd say prices in the area were in prices range somewhere between like 50 500 to 13,000 and I know that's a huge range but that also depends on the size of the house right in HD tv. Those people are the sponsors pay part of it and all of that. So But cost anywhere in our area somewhere between I'd say 5500 probably till about 13,000 depending on the size of the house there are some stages who will charge you 20,000 for even your smallest house.

I am not that stager I think it's a different price point and they want the pianos in the pool tables in those homes. So but every stage is different. I would tell a new NEW Agent make sure your stager has insurance, make sure everything that goes into the home is insured, make sure that your stages, workers have workers comp all of those things there are a lot of people who start in their garage which I did. So I'm very aware that that is a way to do it and they'll do a job, they will do a job for $3,000. But their idea of a job is doing a room that has a couch and one chair in it and no lamps and no art or anything like that. So if they're new to it, ask the stage or what does that mean? Is everything included? Are we going to put art on the walls? Are you going to have lamps? Are you going to have dishes on your table, things like that? Random question. How do you transport lamps without breaking their The hardest thing when you're moving to like secure very technical questions. I just put them in the front seat of the car.

Thank you for that question. I'm here to ask the real questions. I will tell you every Stager wants a good answer to that question. There's like staging blog is really, it's the lampshade. I'm going to leave this interview question Alright. And drum roll. The answer is Sarah. If you could figure out a way to transport lampshades, you could make a million. You clearly you transport them in the front seat of your car. Okay. The lamps are the easy part to pack. The lampshades are the hard part to pack. So lampshades have to go in boxes like big old boxes or put plastic bags over them. They do get dented and scratched. But the lamps themselves are easy now the hard part is keeping your lampshades with the right lamps. We don't do a very good job at that. Just can mix and match everything, Yep. It's what's clean really.

Do you ever have a problem with furniture getting damaged or stolen? Yes. Both um damaged. Yes, because Covid was really nice because agents stopped having open houses so people weren't eating in the houses and there weren't groups of people in the house at one time. So the stuff came back way cleaner, we have find coffee cups that have been used. I have gone into houses and find beds that have been slept in like the princess and the pea story where they slept in every bed in the house. We have had things stolen. Little things that are stolen. We probably don't even really realize because we don't inventory the small small pieces, but we have had once we did a house that was in West Hills and I guess there had been people stalking the neighborhood and saw that it was a house for sale. They pulled in, backed up to the house, took out all the appliances and then I think they had extra room in their trucks.

So then they just started taking furniture. So it happens. We've had houses where the only thing they have taken his blankets and little small things like pillows and comforters. I like to believe that I'm sometimes I think I just tell myself they needed it more than I did. So we let that go. But most for the most part it's been okay damages is probably more so than even stolen. Things. Like people put cups on tables that we've like ring water rings on the table or if we put candy in the house, they'll eat candy and stick the candy wrappers in a plant, like silly things. Yeah, It, yeah, it makes no sense. But we see all kinds of crazy stuff. Plants love candy water. Everybody knows that water and candy, I'm like, just throw in the trash can people funny and you guys are cleaning that furniture, right? I mean maintaining it or somebody is, Yeah. Yeah. We, it's, it's, we're a small crew. So physically everything that comes back I touch.

So I take it out of the box and put it on the shelves or Karen who's with me does it? So we see it will maintain it, we go through little things get broken. It's, it's cute. Sometimes somebody will break something and they won't tell us they'll glue it all back together. So when we go to take, I was like, just tell me if it's broken, it's fine. Like a vase, a vase back together. Yeah. Oh Man. And I was like, it would've just been easier to tell me that something like an eight year old would do mom. It's fine. I don't, I don't know what you're talking about. Right? So kelly awesome. I think we learned a lot. I think we laughed a lot And, and you are awesome. You're definitely one of my favorite states. No, no, my truly my favorite stager. So thank you. Thank you for being with us. If people want to find, you use, you talk to you, chat with you whatever, how can they find you? They can find us on instagram at K Grace interiors. We do have a website.

I don't know if people even use websites anymore, but we have one K Grace interiors dot com. Awesome. Yeah. And we'll provide those links in the show notes so you can get in contact with kelly here. Thank you so much for coming on today. It was great. I learned so much about staging. I was so curious. I had so many questions. You're very welcome. Yeah, it's a lot to learn. It sounds like it. Thanks guys. It was fun talking to you and all right, we'll talk to you later. Bye. Thanks for joining us for today's episode. I'm paul with great builds and I'm Sarah with Glen oaks escrow and if you like what you heard, make sure to subscribe rate and review if you'd like to get in touch, please email us at L A realtor pod at gmail dot com. We'll see you next time. We'll see you next time

Center Stage - How Professional Staging Can Improve Your Listing, With Kelley Mehlmann
Center Stage - How Professional Staging Can Improve Your Listing, With Kelley Mehlmann
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